Kevin Merrill

Kevin Merrill

I am writing this column on St Patrick’s Day. My corned beef is in the crockpot and I am looking forward to having it for dinner with boiled potatoes, green cabbage and maybe a wee bit of Irish whiskey to wash it all down.

I’ll have to take it easy on the whiskey as it is supposed to be a cold night and we will be out frost protecting the vines early Sunday morning.

I don’t remember many St Patrick’s Day holidays when I did not have corned beef and cabbage for dinner. Mom always fixed it when we were growing up, celebrating our Irish ancestry, although I don’t think the Irish celebrate by eating much corned beef and cabbage.

As I recall, my grandmother, Eileen McCarthy de la Cuesta, always enjoyed a good corned beef dinner on this day. It’s fun to remember the stories she used to tell of growing up in Boston as part of a big Irish family before coming out west to California.

I remember one year when I was not able to enjoy corned beef on St Patrick’s Day. I was living in Corcoran before I got married and working for Salyer’s. We used to start the day pretty early, leaving the house for work around 5:45 in the morning. I had the crockpot out the night before and the corned beef in the fridge ready to go. Early that morning I got up, and put the meat in the pot, covered it with a little water and went to work. It was a cold, foggy day over in the Valley and I remember thinking how good that dinner was going to be when I got home around 6:30.

I got home that night expecting to smell the corned beef cooking as I opened the front door. Much to my surprise, the aroma of my corned beef feast was not in the air. I went into the kitchen to check on my dinner and found that I had forgotten to turn the crockpot on. There my uncooked corned beef sat, marinating in cold water.

All was not lost. I put the meat back into the refrigerator and had leftovers for dinner. I probably enjoyed a glass or two of Irish whiskey so as not to miss the celebration totally. The next morning, I made sure the crockpot was on with the corned beef inside before I left for work. Dinner was great that night, but not quite the same has enjoying it on St Patrick’s Day.

My mom and grandmother were great cooks. They never cooked their corned beef in a crockpot, always boiling it in a big pot on the stove. I remember we gave mom a crockpot one year, but she never really understood the concept. She could not help herself from lifting the lid several times throughout the day to check on whatever was cooking inside. Invariably, whatever was cooking didn’t come out quite right or wasn’t done on time.

I checked to make sure my crockpot was on and the corned beef was cooking away before I began writing this week’s column.

Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is a board member of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and a director on the Santa Barbara County Fair Board. He can be reached at kmerrill@mesavineyard.com

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